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Christian Ecology Link, Britain's main church-based environmental organisation, today urged the Church Commissioners to sell its shares in companies involved in developing genetically modified organisms.

The call is in direct response to a press report (The Observer, 21st November) that an unnamed Church source has said that it would be inconsistent for the Church to invest in companies undertaking genetically modified crop trials while refusing to allow such trials to take place on Church land.

Christian Ecology Link (CEL) has urged the Church of England's Ethical Investment Working Group to turn down the request from the Central Science Laboratory when it meets next Wednesday (1st December) to decide its recommendation to the Church Commissioners, who take the final decision. The source claimed that blocking the trials would have a dramatic impact on the Church of England's investment policy. Last year the Church invested over &37m in companies developing genetic engineering techniques such as AstraZeneca and Novartis.

CEL Chairman Tim Cooper said: "The Church Commissioners should disinvest from companies such as AstraZeneca and Novartis forthwith. Widespread public opposition to GM food means that investing heavily in their shares involves undue risk. The Commissioners should instead be exploring opportunities for increased investment in companies associated with organic food, which benefits the environment and is increasingly in demand."

He warned that if the Church Commissioners allowed the trials to proceed "ordinary churchgoers will find it hard to understand why the Church disregards the known environmental threats and dismisses widespread public concern." He added "If the Church accepts its environmental responsibility it must adopt the precautionary principle, which means rejecting farm scale trials on its land."

- -CEL supports research into genetically modified organisms but only in an enclosed environment.

CEL has also expressed concern to Church House officials at a statement on the official Church of England web site suggesting that there is an agreed policy sympathetic to immediate uptake of the technology. Tim Cooper said:

"The suggestion that there is an agreed policy is not true. The statement was originally intended a briefing paper and has not been discussed by General Synod. Some senior figures in the Church are deliberately promoting a misleading policy claim."

Christian Ecology Link 1999
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